Fair warning.. this may piss you off!!
The topic of today's blog post is the sexualization of young girls, the normalizing of it, and the hostile defence of its practice. My recent experience is a tiny thing really in the grand scheme of things, but a symptom of a huge issue.
Pretty hurts, but being a girl in our culture you're taught that being pretty means being sexy, and that is deadly.
Recently I saw a post of a flash mob that happened in my city, which at first I was really intrigued and excited. But then I watched the video. First off I want to say that overall the flash mob was very well executed! No small feat! The woman really did a very good job. A couple of young girls were dancing, and doing some gymnastic moves. Innocent enough. They were even dressed nicely. no revealing suggestive clothing. Awesome! I only had one criticism.
The problem that I had was that the music choice and a few of the moves, that we all know the girls were instructed to do, were rather suggestive in nature. These girls couldn't be more than 12 or 13. Right at that age when they are beginning to figure out who they are as individuals, and are highly impressionable, in need of guidance and support, and eager for acceptance. I will admit, I became emotionally charged, but my response was not as reflective of that as it could have been. I did choose restraint. But, even though the woman who had put it together said that she saw the flaw, another woman decided to speak up. In fact a couple of women did. I was astounded, though not entirely surprised. I was name called for pointing out that fact, that teaching young girls that being sexually objectified is NOT ok , normal, or something to be celebrated. I was attacked for speaking up, seen as assaulting the woman who put so much work into that event, because I brought up an issue with one aspect of the entire thing.
Damn... Sound familiar yet? How quickly I can forget, while surrounded by strong awake women, that there are those that will defend the status quo.
The song used for the young girls
The song that was used for the adult women later..
Now here comes that part I talked about earlier that I said might piss you off. I say that because, while reading this you may come face to face with something that you may have chosen for your daughter, and it may bring up all kinds of emotions of guilt, shame, pain, cognitive dissonance, anger, defensiveness etc. I knew what I was getting into when I decided to work with women, and on women's issues. I knew that not everyone is going to agree with me, and though I may make friends along the way, I have never believed in being silent in fear of not being accepted.
Sexual objectification takes place when girls and women are viewed primarily as objects to be used and looked at.
Environments where women are required, often by a uniform, to reveal and emphasize their bodies are sexually objectifying.
Sexually objectifying environments and activities often result in the participants experiencing high levels of self-objectification.
Self-objectification happens when females evaluate and control their bodies more in terms of their sexual desirability to others than in terms of their own desires, health, or competence. They live to be looked at.
Self-objectification is REALLY bad. It stunts female progress and happiness in every way. It leads to disordered eating, diminished mental and athletic performance, anxiety, depression, body hatred, etc., and these negative consequences occur among girls and women of all ethnicities
Sexual objectification appears normal and natural when we believe our looks and sex appeal are the best/only thing we can bring to the table. Red Tent is all about fighting for girls and women everywhere to recognize we are capable of much more than looking hot in a profit-driven world begging us to believe our bodies are all we’ve got to offer. So it’s time we called out a couple very normal parts of our culture that might be holding us back from real power, health, and happiness, and keeping us battling epidemic levels of self-objectification. Let’s talk about sexually objectifying activities that often include beauty pageants, cheerleading, and competitive dance teams. Moms sign daughters up for these activities and participants opt into these for fun, empowerment, and to show off their awesome skills. But research confirms the sexually objectifying nature of some of these activities is not empowering and triggers the negative consequences of self-objectification in too many participants. Not to mention the media including but not limited to the music we expose them to, the movies, the television shows, and the pervasive advertising that we all deal with.
These girls often adopt unhealthy images of themselves, and other women and girls.
Cognitive and Emotional Consequences: Sexualization and objectification undermine a person's confidence in and comfort with her own body, leading to emotional and self-image problems, such as shame and anxiety.
Mental and Physical Health: Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women--eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.
Sexual Development: Research suggests that the sexualization of girls has negative consequences on girls' ability to develop a healthy sexual self-image. *
I am not saying that these activities themselves are to blame for this. Certainly girls could participate in cheerleading, dance, competitive dance, and gymnastics without the sexual objectification whether internal or external, but in order to do that we have to be willing to take a look, to question, to think, and to make change. Even if it pisses people off, and they call you names. But I digress... You might be saying to yourself.. "But I'm a good Mother! I would never hurt my daughter!" or something comparable, and that is true. But to quote Maya Angelou
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” - Maya Angelou
But we can't know better all on our own, when we are surrounded by people who never hold up a mirror. If we reject constructive criticism instead of analyzing it we rob ourselves of a chance to learn and grow. But we do that sometimes don't we? We don't like what the other person is saying because deep down we knew it wasn't right, and we chose to ignore it. What really hurt wasn't the constructive criticism, but the realization that we abandoned ourselves to be acceptable in an insane asylum we call society, and someone showed us the wound. We know we fell for it, and we are pissed, and the closest target is the messenger.
It's hard enough to be a girl/woman in this world today. We have it better in many ways than the women who came before us, and in our country we still have it better than a lot of women around the world. But that does not mean that we do not have an epidemic on our hands.. It does not excuse the rape culture and misogyny that we still face. It does not excuse us from being accountable for how we perpetuate the problem. We need to continue to stand up for ourselves, one another, and our girls.
If you have made the mistake of not listening to your gut and you feel a negative emotion I implore you to not sit in it. Instead use it to choose differently, heal, and empower.